Dunrobin Castle Station History
 

 

The railway from Inverness to the far north opened in several stages. The first to Dingwall opened in 1863.The next stage was to Tain, eventually reaching Golspie in 1868. That was as far as the railway got for the next two years. But then followed an event unique in the history of railway construction in Britain. Seeking to open up his estates- and being a strong believer in the social value of railways- the third Duke of Sutherland promoted his own railway from Dunrobin to Helmsdale to be built at his own expense. He promoted his own Bill in Parliament which received Royal Assent as The Duke of Sutherland’s Railway Act. There is an original copy of the Act in the station museum.

The Duke of Sutherland’s Railway was some 14 ˝ miles long and opened on November 1st 1870. Both ends of the line were temporary termini: In the north a station was built at West Helmsdale, just short of the village, and in the south the line terminated at Dunrobin just a mile from the rest of the railway system at Golspie. Inspecting the line on the eve of its opening on 31st October the Board of Trade inspector wrote “I found the permanent way in excellent order and I am happy to be able to report my opinion that the Board of trade may safely sanction the opening of this railway for public traffic.”

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For the first seven months of its life the railway was run as an entirely independent concern, but on 14th June 1871 the Highland Railway finally completed the missing link between Golspie and Dunrobin and its engines and stock worked the whole line, with the Duke becoming a director of the Highland railway. The Duke’s own engine and two carriages were then used for personal journeys to Inverness with the carriages being attached there to southbound trains for more southerly destinations. This right to run their own train was retained by the Sutherland family until railway nationalization in 1948. The present Countess, now in her 90s, remembers hitching her personal sleeping car to the back of the London sleeper at Inverness. The Far North line itself eventually reached Wick and Thurso in 1874 by means of the Caithness & Sutherland railway of which the Duke was the major shareholder.
 
At the time of the link to the rest of the railway system at Golspie, Dunrobin station closed to the public becoming a private station solely for the use of the family. The original building (in a somewhat wild west ranch style - see opposite) was replaced by the present fine Arts and Crafts style building in 1902, during the time of the fourth Duke. It was designed by the estate architect L. Bisset. The Duke’s waiting room, which is finely panelled, is situated on the right (as looked at from the platform edge). It is this room which now contains the main part of the railway museum. To the left was the waiting room for staff. As well as many railway items this room also contains a display of domestic household items. On the far left is a lower extension building which originally housed the various signal levers to control the access points to the engine shed and bay platform at the station.

The original station building - from an article in The Tatler, published Oct 1903 - though this building had already been replaced at the time of printing!
 

At the front there’s a canopy which is supported by painted tree trunks to give a deliberately rustic feel. Underneath can be seen the initials of the fourth Duke and Duchess, G & M,. George and Millicent.

In its years as a private station many distinguished visitors arrived at the station, including The Prince of Wales- later Edward VII- and the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.

Between the wars the station was made available for public use whilst being retained in private ownership. This state of affairs existed until January 29th 1965 when the station was formally closed as part of the Beeching rationalization plan for Britain’s Railways.

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And closed it might have remained, but from the 1980s onwards a cautious programme of re-opening the station began. With its perfect situation just a few minutes walk from the castle entrance Dunrobin station was ideally placed for visitors, and on 30 June 1985 the present Countess of Sutherland formally re-opened the station. Initially the station opened for summer Sundays only. However it did not enter the public railway timetable until 1994 when it was renamed Dunrobin Castle. Trains called throughout the week during a limited summer period from May to September. From 2011 passengers have been able to use the station during the same dates as the castle’s opening- April 1st-15th October.
 

By the middle 90s the station building was in need of some considerable attention, particularly after a visit by vandals. The present leaseholder undertook the necessary work and the building has been brought back to its former glory.

In 2012 a further piece of restoration was completed when the long derelict cloakroom at the back of the building was restored to use.
 

Dunrobin Castle Station as it is today
 

Dunrobin Castle station is unique in railway history. It has been within one family’s ownership for its entire existence. Although there were a few other private stations, none were quite so fine and they all had the misfortune to be on lines which closed in the 1960s. Now it has become a tourist attraction in its own right with its exhibits of railway miscellanea. These are displayed so that they can mostly be seen through the windows. However the station can be opened for visits by groups (please email if you are interested) In addition the station opens for a few days a year (notices are displayed at the castle) and also when charter trains are calling with visitors touring the castle.

If you are coming to Dunrobin do spare time to look at the station. As a private station platform tickets are issued under the authority of the Sutherland Estate and these together with miniature station name plates and keyrings can be obtained from the castle gift shop.

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